A PASO Dining Experience with Debbie Thomas, Chef Kurt Metzger, and Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin
Guest List ::
Nic Mattson, PASO Magazine Publisher
Hayley Mattson, PASO Magazine Co-owner
Millie Drum, PASO Magazine Columnist & Ad Consultant
Special Guests ::
Steve Martin, Mayor of Paso Robles
Debbie Thomas, THO Owner
Kurt Metzger, THO Executive Chef
This month, our dining experience takes us to Thomas Hill Organics with Owner Debbie Thomas and Executive Chef Kurt Metzger. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at a table situated in the patio courtyard of THO with everyone’s favorite local politician – Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin. As we dined on a seemingly endless spread of beautiful food prepared by Chef Kurt, we talked about all things Paso Robles – the food, the wine, the people, places, and community spirit we all have come to know and love.
Steve and his wife Jennifer have lived in Paso Robles since 1973 and are active in many community activities. They have two daughters – Nora lives in Texas with her husband Todd and children, Abby and Steven, while Jamie and her husband Paul live in Glendale and will welcome their first child in June.
Steve made his way in the business world as a marketing professional and has decades of experience in corporate communications. His industry background includes radio, television, and newspaper; he is also an author and musician. He served on the Paso Robles City Council from 1987 to 1996, including as Mayor from 1988 to 1990. In 2012, after taking some off from local politics and doing a stint with Atascadero Main Street, Steve decided it was time to run for City Council again. When Duane Picanco decided not to run for mayor again, Steve threw his hat in the ring and ran unopposed in 2014.
“I have gone at the mayor’s position the same way I did with my campaign – I just want to engage with as many people as possible and be a good mayor. I want to be a mayor people feel comfortable talking to and be as involved as I can be while I am mayor. I want people to realize I am responsive and I am willing to engage in conversation.”
And with that, the conversation between us continued to flow as we tasted flavorful offerings from the THO kitchen.
To kick things off, Debbie brought out two of THO’s most popular starters – short rib tacos and black lentil tacos.
Nic’s favorite: Black Lentil Tacos – beluga lentils sit atop a carrot ginger purée, and are adorned with layers of candied jalapeños, almonds, pickled watermelon, cilantro, and coconut cream. “This is a delicious mix of sweet and spicy. The kick is flavorful but not too hot, even with a side of habanero sauce. The taste of the fresh cilantro really sticks out and ties it all together. The presentation is very inviting and appetizing.”
When Debbie and server extraordinaire Christine brought out our main dishes, we tried everything that was set before us! The spread included several sandwiches – Braised Pork Belly, Smoked Salmon, Cubano, House-cured Tri Tip Pastrami, Goat Cheese – and the Warm Grain Chicken Salad.
Hayley’s favorite: Smoked Salmon Sandwich – a hearty serving of salmon with macerated onion, avocado, blonde frisée, and Sriracha aioli on wheat toast. “The presentation is beautiful and the sandwich is robust and hearty. I love salmon sandwiches, and this is the freshest I have had in the local area. The salmon is really pink, the sauce and onions bring out a different and delicious taste, and the toasted bread is a nice touch. Honestly, this is a sandwich I could eat every day!”
Steve’s favorite: Cubano – a generous helping of roasted pork shoulder and smoked pork loin, topped with Swiss cheese, dill pickles, Dijon, and garlic aioli tucked inside fresh, soft panini bread. “I eat much less meat than I used to. Once I saw and tasted the Cubano – and some of the other sandwiches – I decided this is going to be one of those days when I eat a little more meat! It’s simply irresistible.”
Millie’s favorite: Goat Cheese Sandwich – a delicious combination of goat cheese topped with strawberries, pistachios, arugula, and a balsamic reduction sauce situated between slices of wholesome dark grain bread. “This is lovely; it’s the perfect spring/summer sandwich. Alongside the sandwich, I especially enjoyed the fresh, tender salad greens with a hint of quinoa and light vinaigrette dressing. The ambiance is delightful and the hospitality is the best! I’m also looking forward to dining at the Raw Bar soon!”
Check out more info on the new Raw Bar at thomashillorganics.com.
Does Debbie have a favorite? “Lately, my go-to choices are the Cubano and the Warm Grain Chicken Salad, but everything that we serve here is great! We want to have something for vegans and vegetarians, plus we have beef, chicken, fish – we try to have a little bit of something for everybody.”
The conversation continued, with Hayley commenting on Steve’s mayoral duties. “The way you take on the role of Mayor is different than what I have witnessed before. You are very involved with different committees and show up at many events to work. Why do you take this approach?”
“I’ve lived here for many decades and I have always been involved with committees,” Steve said. “I show up and work at events because I like to help and I like to talk with people directly, find out what they are thinking and what their motivations are. In a town this size, I believe this is the way a mayor should be.”
After filling up on tacos, sandwiches, and salads, we almost passed on dessert. And then…Debbie told us about a Chef Kurt original and we were sold! She set two plates of chocolate brownie goodness before us, six spoons, and we all dug in!
Meagan’s favorite: Death by Chocolate – warm, fudgy house-made brownies with walnuts, served with vanilla bean gelato by Leo Leo Gelato, and garnished with fresh local strawberries. “Anyone who knows me knows I always save room for dessert – and this plateful of rich, chocolatey brownies paired with Leo Leo Gelato (my favorite) and strawberries is out of this world! Simple, yet delightful. Be sure to indulge in this dessert, whether you enjoy with your meal or take some home for later. It’s worth the calories!”
Curious about how and why Debbie started THO, I asked, “Did you always see yourself in the restaurant business?” She responded emphatically, “No! I was in sales and marketing, and that’s what brought my ex-husband and I to SLO County. We loved to eat organically so we started a 10-acre organic farm for ourselves and to sell the products locally. When the company I worked for wanted to move me to Northern Cal, we had already fallen in love with this area and needed to figure out a way to stay. We didn’t want to move, we had an organic farm – so let’s open a restaurant! I don’t cook, but I love to eat good food and good wine! I think the reason we have succeeded is because of my sales and marketing background.”
Regarding Chef Kurt, Debbie said, “We’ve had several chefs over the years but he is one of my favorites. His food is amazing and he really cares; he doesn’t let any food go out unless he thinks it looks right. Kurt wants his guests to enjoy their time here and enjoy their meal. I want my customers to be happy and he does too.”
Chef Kurt has worked primarily in San Diego and L.A. and calls Paso Robles, “an amazing area. The vineyards, the farmers, the fresh produce, fresh breads – it truly is a chef’s paradise. The winemakers here are so outgoing and friendly. I get to meet so many of them; they’ll come here and eat, sit down, and talk.”
MORE ABOUT THOMAS HILL ORGANICS
The menu changes seasonally; some items start out as trends and remain on the menu based on reactions from customers. THO is well-known for its pork belly sandwich and salmon sandwich; both have been on the menu for nine years.
All of the breads are made locally from Pan d’Oro Bakery and La Migliore Italian Bakery. Most of the greens are sourced from Magnolia Produce, farm fresh eggs and seasonal produce from Loo Loo Farms, and micro greens from Gracious Greens. THO sources from several other farms and local Farmers’ Markets throughout different seasons.
The wine list is extensive and impressive, with local labels such as DAOU, Halter Ranch, and Tablas Creek, and there is a nice selection of local beers and ciders.
Stop by and see Debbie and her team at Thomas Hill Organics
and tell them you saw their story in PASO Magazine!
1313 Park Street, Paso Robles
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Open daily – see website for hours